Breeding trees resistant to insects and diseases: putting theory into application.
Tree species world-wide are under increasing threat from diseases and insects, many of which are non-native. The integrity of our natural, urban and plantation forest ecosystems, and the services they provide are seriously imperiled. Breeding programs that harness the natural genetic resistance within tree species can provide a durable solution to these threats. In many cases, genetic resistance offers the key to restoration of forests and may even prevent extinction of some tree species. The potential use of genetic resistance is often widely discussed, but the development of applied programs and use of resistant seed has only taken place in a relatively few species. The reflections here from some of the most advanced applied resistance programs, as well as some of the unknowns and limitations of implementing a resistance program will provide a guide to managers considering this approach. In any such program, there is a research component, a tree improvement component and a restoration and reforestation component. These three components, along with sustained management and public support, need to be linked for any genetic resistance program to be fully successful in facilitating the recovery of healthy forests. Other management activities and newly developing technologies may serve to complement genetic resistance or to expedite its development, but premature, over-emphasis on some of these may slow the operational program. An understanding of the level, frequency, durability and stability of resistance and its limitations are necessary to management planning.